Director Hao Wu on his film 76 days
I'm Keith MacArthur unlocking bryson's brain is a podcast about my son I am. The rare disease that keeps him from walking or talking Bryson's perfect. His life is really hard and our families search for a cure. Oh my gosh. Maybe science is ready for this. It's part memoir part medical mystery. We can do just about anything modifying DNA Heart in my throat cure his controversial unlocking braces brain subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. This is a CBC podcast. The. Opening sequences like something out of a horror movie there's a hand held point of view shot one health care worker is chasing another down hospital hallway both are covered head to toe in white plastic has mad gear and then one of them begins to wail. On your. Her father has just died and she's longing for one last goodbye. But our colleagues hold her back as a body bag is wheeled away on a Gurney. This is a hospital in Wuhan China at the height of the COVID nineteen crisis there, and that moment is the opening of a powerful new documentary called seventy six days at screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival. Is One of the documentaries directors, and he is in New York City how good morning. Won't. Tell me but that opening sequence is even just hearing it again. Is, chilling to watch what's unfolding is really quite something when you saw that footage, what did you think? I was crying when I watch that footage even just in it's very rough rush format. And that time as I was doing research for a US network about doing. Covert nineteen film in Wuhan. And I've retell to over a dozen. So makers helping filming hunt. But as as I saw that footage I decided I wanted to collaborate with. Journalists who shot footage to make a phil what is the footage tell you about immune? We'll talk more about the things that unfold in this hospital over the course of the seventy six days. But what does that footage tell you about what life was like in that hospital? It was absolutely horrible and scary and people. especially. Because it was in the very early days of the Kobe nineteen pandemic very few people knew how dangerous the virus was. So everybody was just trying to be super careful like you mentioned that the health worker couldn't even say goodbye to her father for the last time because her colleagues were trying to keep her away from from the body So you know what are not to get hurt accept it even though all covered head-to-toe MPP. So it was really heartbreaking and and the same time it feel like when I watched I really did feel like it was. A almost as in sight feel. Well there's a scene that shortly thereafter. And it it shows people who are banging on the doors of the hospital trying to get in the doors are locked in a banging and there's a crowd of people outside the door and they want to get in because they're worried that they might be infected, but there's not enough space for them. So the hospital workers kind of opened the door one person comes in and then they closed the door and locked the door and it's like something out of a movie. It did. Look like a movie and just to. Correct you on that. Those people were diagnosed with a cove. It there were there were just like, but then even after diagnosis having a hard time. So killing bed because the hospitals even hunt we're all. That time so they'd already been diagnosed and couldn't find anywhere to be treated. That's correct. That was. Part of this in these these two scenes kind of paint the picture of what it was like for healthcare workers in that city in that hospital tell me more about about the challenges that those workers would face and one. Yeah. There were a lot of challenges especially in the beginning of the lockdown I can be Chinese government made a very. Excuse me. Made a very quick decision to lock down the city of Hun. But then a lot of the other aspects of how to manage the lockdown the. Had what the details. So there was a severe I there was a severe shortage of PS to protect the healthcare workers and at the very beginning and secondly You know the hospital there's so many people rushing who got infected by by the coronavirus in rushing to the hospital and healthcare workers were having a hard time finding best for them. Or find ways to treat them and Lafley. A lot of house coworkers were trained in infectious disease but. It wasn't like a war zone. So anybody who know who was a nurse or doctor were sent to treat covid nineteen even though after others just a very. Short training. As the pandemic was unfolding in Wuhan we spoke with people who were part of that locked on people who had been locked into their apartments and they weren't able to leave. You are able through this project to get into the hospitals as you say, where people were seeking treatment tell me how this project unfolded for you. Look a long story on to get this project going First of all, usually under kind of filmmaker would like to do character focus stories rather than newsy topics because I often wonder the filmmaker, how much more can I add to? A topic that's been well covering the media but on January twenty third, the Dave what's put under lockdown. I flew back to China to spend Chinese New Year with my family in Shanghai. So you but the real even though I was in. Shanghai which. You know far from behind but as soon as well how was put under lockdown the entire country of China putting much what shutdown as well going Chinese New Year. Everybody just stay home and nobody was venturing out the city of Shanghai, which is China's largest city also looked like a Zombie apocalypse movies there. So it was pretty shocking to me to see a country could be looked like that and after I flew back. To New York where you were approached me to make a film about this pandemic. I just because for me it was personal. We have plans to take my kids to kids to go to Shanghai for doing, Chinese, you're to visit their grandparents because both my parents. have. They stage cancer I don't know how much time they have loved to spend with their grandchildren. So for a long time, I was feeling really sad. I didn't know how whether they'll be able to see their grandchildren again and also right after Chinese New Year? My GRANDPA was diagnosed with late stage liver cancer and he passed away a month later. So this Kobe I couldn't go back. Fly Back to China to say goodbye to him myself because China. Had restricted inbound traffic. So everything's Code store has become very snow. So we're not US network approach me to make a documentary I jumped down and I started researching and talking to people filming on the ground and that's all I got in touch with my coat. Directors how did the CO directors get this access in the hospital because it seems as though they are as close to to what was unfolding as you could possibly get. Yes So Much two CO directors of both journalists in China way she's ten because you know who's getting credited a by his real name. He's video reporter for esquire China however, he went to. On finance from esquire China he went there because he wanted to find out what's happening during the lockdown and he found a way to embed himself with a medical team sent from somewhere else in China to support. So he embedded himself. With the medical team and spend a long time I think over forty five days with a medical team in one hospital, my co director Who didn't want to basically show his identity or get credited get credit I credit him as anonymous, and he's a reporter photojournalist called local newspaper in Wuhan and he because can you a lot of the hospitals were able to get really great accents and he shot like three hundred hospitals the footage of which I incorporate in the film you see th those who work in the hospitals or wearing a mentioned. These has matt suits completely protected. There are scenes in which you know they're taping up the sleeves of their gear so that the virus doesn't creep in. What sort of challenges did that pose for your two co directors in terms of what they were able to film and how they weren't able to film I must say, huge. Rations for my co directors because he was especially in in February when lot was unknown about this virus, the were really brave in terms of going to the hospital and wearing the same. Protective gear equipment as the ET healthcare workers. Feeling that way, they really put their own health and their own lives on the line to do that and also wearing the PPI. Holding a camera assuming for hours a day it was really physically exhausting because the material of the has met sued. You know doesn't agree as well as regular clothes. So it was really hot and a Lotta Times my coach after. Would feel that they were faint and and so. So there's a lot of challenges also once you put on your PBS's you have to stay as long as you possibly could because wants to get out of the contaminations on you pretty much. Your quota for the day for the PS for the for the for the Gago, the suits, and you couldn't go back in again. So a lot of times they couldn't even get bathroom breaks because they just WANNA stay inside without coming out and taking. One of your co directors actually got sick is that correct? Yes we she's a So after study filming, he felt he had all the typical Cova symptoms. So He's A. Pretty scared he was. He was just ahead just married. So he was talking to his wife on the phone and but he couldn't see anyone he sales isolating. In in in the hotel that's reserved for healthcare workers, and now I think a week later, he checked himself into a hospital and got tested for the Kobe nineteen for the coronavirus and the results came back negative but then it was doing the early days and the tests were not exactly accurate. So we still don't know whether he had exposed and how is he doing? Okay. Yeah, he's okay. No. Okay. Hi I'm anesthesia abuses. 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One of the things we've seen this story play out around the world, but you really see it firsthand in this film is the relationship between those who are taking care of the patients and the patients themselves, and and there is a even in frantic situations. A relationship that develops between those two parties. Tell me a little bit about the relationship as you sought between healthcare workers and the patients and their families. So I think that's Relationship, between healthcare workers and patients was definitely wise of the footage that really really moved me other than the really dramatic and situations that have been captured by my two CO directors It's. It was those little moments when healthcare nurse trying to hold hands with old grandma who was super scared by herself. It was those little moments I really moved me that showed me that in the direst in the most dangerous. Most fearful situations we human beings consume managed, show our humanity. They're still hope that we can always do this together. That's one of the reasons that really prompted me to continue on finish this film one of the nurses says to one of the patients your family is not here where your family now. Absolutely and then I think what the anonymous co-opted wasn't paying attention to that male nurse and the beginning. But as soon as I saw that footage you to follow. Follow him. You have to keep on filming him because he just in a very quiet but dignified ways. Interact the way he interacted with these patients were just so movies but in a very, you know understated way. That continued after the patients did not survive with Cova nineteen Thursday a story of WHO's determined help get the personal effects of the dead back to their families are bags and boxes of phones and identity cards, and what have you told me a little bit about that and how that unfolds in the film. What what what the nurses did? was actually the recreation earlier the government regulation was I as soon as the patient, and past you have to burn everything all their belongings you cannot even like save anything because there just not sure how dangerous the virus was but Those nurses that Red Cross Hospital. In Wuhan, they decided to keep everything. They feel it's so important because the didn't get to see their families before they passed the feel like it was super important to keep something the personal effect for their families so they have something to remember. You know the the the those patient by so yes they they just clean they ever after every patient past the would just clean up everything with alcohol store them away and after the situation gut law bettering when I have more time they were clean them again and gradually calling the family trying to get in touch with them and try to. You know bring personally fit back to the family. It was really really heartbreaking because some of the family didn't even know their relatives or their parents or their grandparents have passed because it was so chaotic and the beginning of this crisis how the patients were admitted to the hospital the what's sometimes you you know as as showing the film. Odor patient they couldn't get in touch with family it was really heartbreaking. What did you understand about how the healthcare workers themselves coped with everything that was going on the there are scenes in which they're drawing characters on each other's gowns and on the PGA tell me a little bit about what they're writing. I I. Think I think some some of the healthcare workers on I can't. I can't speak to all of them. Some of them. Definitely. Volunteer. To go to the farm line because the like like one nurse said in the film because they feel like this is such a special time for the for their generation. It's rare for them to be able to become quote Unquote Heroes they want to get that sense of achievement all a sense of accomplishment by going to the phone lines so Men have done really like money to work. Walk with patience and they were really brave and but then the reality is that it was really hard repetitive and also very demanding. Many of them. Sick and so and so as the situation improved a little bit these trying to find ways to relax a little bit. So what they did offer was joe pictures and right out food they want to eat on each other You know has my suits because you know on the contamination or working hospitals they were eating the same box meals every day day in day out, they got really sick and tired of it, and they'll also trying to cheer each other up but obviously some six days just a snapshot, their lives doing the lockdown afterwards after lockdown lifted there you know there are a lot of issues will face to face with by these healthcare workers because. Many of them have sort of pushes traumatic. Distress because it was so. Emotional money shocking, and draining as scary for them to have to the seventy six days you mentioned your two co directors. That one is identified a reporter. As you say for Esquire China, the other one is anonymous. What sort of risks do people on the ground in city? Like Wuhan in the midst of that when everything is kind of falling apart what sort of risks politically do they take and making a movie like this? Yes I think right and the beginning much both my co directors were worried about the political risk um so we started. Collaborating. In in early. February. Then by late March when the political fingerpointing between China the US. became. Really bad. They stop collaborating with me and because we just didn't know where was taking the film whether they will get into trouble with the Chinese government depending on how I ended the film essential to how to edit out entire rough cut and showed them and come in some of my creative vision before they would resume collaboration with me because they were worried that they were worried that if the portrayal was in in one direction what would happen to them. Exactly exactly. What if I? You know I have a political agenda to make China. Look back. So, that's one thing that were were were involved about and so so I told him I, I just wanted to focus on the human story. That's what is strong in their footage. That's one of the most movie based on their footage So but then you you know I think I, think for my co director because they the they're they're the myth working China worry about their jobs. That's one thing secondly, I think. Increasingly. The more and more worry about Internet tros because right now anything you say about Kobe not just in China's social media even here in the West on twitter for example, you always have to camps. Worry mask no mass to camps will fight against each other So drucker increasing worry about what if the Internet trolls in China to? Take image some clips from the film accused him that the coach after trying to benefit personally from from this immense tragedy. Then have some blowback as well affect. Their jobs what about China? So that's why my anonymous director decided not to review. What about for you? I mean this film you You could be at risk of being seen as propaganda because you celebrates the workers who were there and talk about their lives. You could be seen as somebody who is portraying the situation in a negative light because there have been concerns that try to cover it up parts of the outbreak and the severity of what was happening and how did you manage to straddle that. I for me. One thing is I live in New York. I lived at work in New York City. So I'm less concerned about any political blowback as my co directors and secondly I feel like. I can't I can only do what I think is best. What we think's going to score the film based on the footage we'll have access to and I. I don't know I have faith. I have faith overall in the audiences in intelligence I think there will be. You know some social media trolls accusing us of either this or about but I trust based on early feedback from test screenings and also from some of the twitter mentions of the film so far at test I think people get what I'm trying to say which is that. In the catastrophe our experiences across cultures across national borders of very similar how China handle the outbreak has become an issue in the US presidential election. You have the President Donald Trump who? Alternately either praises or criticises China handle this. What did you learn about? How trying to handle this outbreak based on what you were able to pull together through this film. Yeah it's It's a roller coaster riot. All this geopolitical debates or arguments how China handles the Kobe nineteen crisis. It's so I think it's you too early to tell because we're still living through this questions. To be honest and the very very beginning of this angry I was Gonna end how China, handle the Hon the first week doing the lockdown it was absolute chaos. I think not just me entire country was angry. How could this have happened? How could people be dying So many people were dying, how could our healthcare workers lot PP's on the front line but and soon as the Kobe nineteen pandemic hit New York I was in New, York in March I. saw it coming I was actually on the street filming because I'm the beginning we're thinking about doing a tale of two cities just contract in the story response with the New York response. When he hit new? York? I suddenly realize it's the same whenever we face the sudden outbreak or A. Natural Catastrophe. No society. To be prepared for that. In in in the US, the same story in be replayed all over again. So that's how I decided that maybe. It's Arturo. Who did right? Could it wrong? So that's why I decided to make the film. Gets focused on individual experiences. What's the image from the film that as with you the most I mean given what you've seen, but also what you lived through in Shanghai and then back in New York and having seen this footage what is that one image that that stays with you the most in this phone Milner holding the hands or the scared grandma. Because I couldn't be there for my GRANDPA. Would you pass I couldn't be there to hold him. So that image really stay with me. That's that just shows. We are trying to tell each other in times of crisis, and luckily we do have some people who are willing to. In touch with each other. Despite the fear. It's a really powerful film. I mean as I said, it starts. In a very gripping way but the human stories that come out of this and to your point, the relationships that develop between those who need care and those who are giving the care is is quite something. It's great to talk to you about this. Thank you, congratulations. Thank you Matt, how who is one of the directors of seventy six days a film about the beginning of the pandemic in China, inside a hospital where Healthcare workers were treating those who were as I said, banging at the door trying to get in get that treatment at the film seventy, six days screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival for more CBC podcasts go to CBC DOT CA slash podcasts.